Last of the tomato glut

The joys of dealing with Government civil servants: they knew that I use a screen reader but still wanted to send me documents in large print!   I’d be more empathetic to their ignorance if they weren’t under a legal responsibility to make their services accessible.   If they don’t understand the basics as part of their professional skills base, what hope is there?

But, in case you too are befuddled by some of the adaptive technology speak, here’s a little crib:

Braille: used by some visually impaired people; often those who have had limited sight since an early age; learning Braille after about age 50 is difficult due to reduced fingertip sensitivity; many Braille users may also use other forms of IT accessibility; they may “print” Braille on special printers and may have electronic Braille readers.

Large print: some may require documents in different sizes (I used to use 36-point font in Bold; many will use other IT accessibility methods; many will adjust the size of an electronic document to print the appropriate size if they need a hard copy.

Screen magnification: various features enable the text, cursors and other features displayed on the screen to be enlarged; often this means that individuals cannot see the whole screen at one time (avoid material that is on the right); they may also print in large text.

Screen readers: people like me can only access documents independently that are provided electronically and formats other than Word may be inaccessible with their particular screen reader software; pdf documents are often inaccessible; tables ditto; images and logos are inaccessible; punctuation needs to be immaculate especially at the end of headings and in lists or all the words are read as a long sentence; documents don’t need to be in any different size font; Excel spreadsheets are highly risky; form completion can be impossible.

Hope that this little taster is useful –it doesn’t attempt to cover speech recognition and more.   Accessibility of electronic information varies between different software as some is free with such as Microsoft and Apple whereas other costly software is specifically created for disabled people.

Now for something much more fun and positive: immeasurably precious after months of nurturing, the last tomatoes are ripening and I wanted to make the best of those that had split or gone a little soft.   A pasta sauce was the answer:

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped.

4 carrots, peeled and finely chopped.

2 sticks celery, peeled and finely chopped.

3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped.

10 pieces dried tomato, finely chopped.

tablespoon each of thyme, rosemary and tarragon leaves, chopped.

teaspoon ground black pepper.

3 tablespoons olive oil.

750-1000g ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped.

large pinch of salt.

tablespoon basil leaves, torn.

 

Sauté the onion, carrots, celery and herbs in the oil over a gentle heat for about an hour.

Add the tomatoes and salt and continue to gently cook,

Add the basil and any other fresh herbs to hand and continue to cook for about 30 minutes.

Serve with cooked pasta, topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese, chopped black olives or the garnish of your choice.

My Tips:

The key to this sauce is the slow cooking.   I used a heat diffuser over the lowest gas flame possible and let it splutter away for at least two hours.   With the lid on, the vegetables reduced to about a quarter of their size before the tomatoes were added.   It took no effort after the initial chopping other than to stir occasionally and check nothing was sticking.

Delicious, robust and full of fresh goodness that celebrates tomatoes.

 

The next on-line cooking demo is at 1030 on 11 October.  Please do join in.  The links are:

Eventbrite link:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/winter-warmer-baking-session-with-penny-for-visually-impaired-people-tickets-171094306677

Facebook Link:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1073961713195536

 

 

 

 

Summer Garden Party

 

Thanks to the Not Forgotten Association for organising a lunchtime musical entertainment at the Grange, near Arlesford in Hampshire, this week.

Amidst the singalong sessions, the high spots were: The venerable gentlemen of the Glen Miller Tribute Band, complete with huge American flags; the ladies of a certain age from a care home winning their champagne prize for distinctive pink wigs – definitely the Best Dressed; the owner of the striking 5 litre Audi v10 car who opened his rear engine compartment to show everyone his parts; the stream of volunteers from the military and business who’d given up their time to assist – even sprays of water in the hot September sun.   There was no doubt that songs over 50 years old got the best reception but nothing stopped the mature jivers strutting their stuff.

Lord Ashburton told us a little about the Grange’s history: originally a simple brick building, an ambitious owner centuries ago had commissioned the National Gallery architect to create something more splendid.   The result was a new-build: large and impressive with striking Doric portico.   Not to be outdone, a subsequent owner had added a flashy Ionic portico at the other end (in front of the old orangery).   Nowadays, the orangery has been replaced with a new building hosting opera and other events while the house is too dilapidated for occupation and has passed into the grasp of English Heritage.

At our more humble home, apples are still thumping off the trees.   Homemade Christmas mincemeat is one solution for using about a pound of peeled, cored and chopped fruit.   I’ll be doing an on-line demonstration of this at 1030 on Monday 13 September – sign up for a free ticket: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/167476539839

If you have any problems, one of the Open Sight staff can help with registering: 02380 646 378

This week we have also been managing a glut of tomatoes and decided to dry them.   The result is not quite the authentic “sun-blushed” type but will be good to bring the taste of summer into winter dishes.

Many people simply place dried tomatoes in jars covered with olive oil.   I was trying an extra step by using heat to both expel all air from the jar and avoid botulism.   I’m told that the bug is killed at 85C for 5 minutes.   I gave the jar 30 minutes at a degree higher to allow the temperature to fully penetrate the contents.   If I’m dead next year, you’ll know it didn’t work!

 

ripe tomatoes.

sea salt and ground black pepper.

a little vinegar (optional).

olive oil.

 

Halve or quarter the tomatoes and dip the cut sides in a mix of the salt and pepper.

Place on racks in a dehydrator or on parchment paper lined trays in the oven (150C, Gas 2).

Keep drying until they feel leathery.

Place in a jar or airtight container for 24 hours to “condition “.   The degree of driedness equals out between the tomato pieces.

If using, briefly dip in vinegar to offset the tomato sweetness with a little acidity.

Pack in a jar with a silicone ring and metal clip, topping up with oil.

Place the clipped closed jar in a sous-vide waterbath or saucepan and bring the temperature to 86C for 30 minutes.

Remove and cool in cold water.

Double Trouble

Who would have thought a simple birthday/anniversary cake could cause such problems?

The raisins, currants and sultanas had been soaking in brandy for a month: plump and boozy.   All the other ingredients were neatly pre-weighed ready for the mixer.   The recipe was just a quarter of my basic Christmas version https://youtu.be/Y81yGF72dUQ but, like the Easter variation https://pennysddblog.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=2283&action=edit I replaced sugar with our own honey.

Eggs were added to fluffy butter and honey; flour folded in with citrus zest and juice; cherries, apricots, dried apple and nuts were embalmed in the spicey mix.   All spooned into the cake mould; into a low oven and timer set.   Smugly triumphant as it had taken only 30 minutes.

Horror on realising that the jar of carefully pre-soaked fruit had been forgotten: cake out of the oven and the late additions gently folded in.   Thank heavens for a silicone cake mould that didn’t need lining.

Time to start planning the finishing touches: a week of daily injections with the reserved fruity brandy before marzipan and icing.   But did I have enough icing sugar in the cupboard?   Out came the container and, with a sickening crash, it hit the floor.

You can hardly imagine the spreading power of icing sugar when dropped from a height.   And it has special staying sticking power.   Three washes of the floor by indomitable co-cook, Karen, and we were still finding traces days later.   There’s that special gentle sucking kiss of shoes on a tantalisingly tacky surface.

Hence, this week, a simpler supper dish as prepared by the sous-chef: a Tian Provençal which is ideal when we have gluts of summer vegetables:

1 large aubergine, sliced in half lengthwise.

3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced.

Olive oil.

salt and pepper.

1 or 2 courgettes.

4 or 5 tomatoes.

tablespoon thyme leaves.

tablespoon rosemary leaves, finely chopped.

Stud the aubergine halves with the garlic slices, douse with about a tablespoon of olive oil and season generously before wrapping in cooking foil.

Bake the aubergine package in the oven at 180C, Gas 4 for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the courgettes and onions.

When cool enough to handle, scoop the softened flesh of the aubergine into the base of an ovenproof dish.

Fill the dish with upright alternating rows of tomato and courgette, sprinkling herbs and seasoning between each row.

Drizzle another tablespoon or so of olive oil over the rows and bake in the oven at 180C, Gas 4 for about 45 minutes until the vegetables are soft.

 

This dish has many variations according to what you have available.   For example, thinly sliced peppers could be included and other herbs added.   We made a simple topping of toasted walnut pieces to add crunch (toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds would have been as good).